The Campus Year in Speech Control

Abby Thernstrom once remarked, our colleges and universities “are islands of
repression in a sea of liberty,” so we always look forward to the annual report
of FIRE to see what all those busy college repressers are up to.

FIRE has good news and bad. 

news: For the fifth year in a row, the percentage of campuses that seriously
infringe  free speech has declined.

News: Those schools that still seriously restrict speech account for more than
three-fifths of the 409 colleges and universities surveyed.

news: the number of schools with no speech codes has doubled.

news: That’s only 15 of the 409 schools with no speech codes.

news: Though the repression of speech on campus is a “national scandal,” the
courts and the American people reject these repressive policies.

news: Though anti-repression, American parents are eager to spend $50,000 a
year or so to place their sons and daughters in famous but pro-repression
universities like these:

  • Harvard University,
    which prohibits actions that “demean” others based on a variety
    of personal characteristics, as well as “[b]ehavior evidently
    intended to dishonor such characteristics as race, gender, ethnic group,
    religious belief, or sexual orientation.” (Unless you like to take
    chances, don’t utter a non-approving comment about transvestites, say, or
    the Immaculate Conception. Too risky.)
  • Princeton University,
    which prohibits verbal behavior that “demeans … or injures another
    because of personal characteristics or beliefs or their expression.”
    Note that Princeton is NOT actually restricting speech, only behavior (action)
    some of which turns out to be verbal action.
  • Columbia University,
    which prohibits “belittling remarks about a person’s gender or
    belittling remarks about a person’s sexual orientation based in
    gender-stereotyping,” and “inappropriate sexual innuendoes or
    humor.”  (Translation: Be sure
    to clear all comments and jokes with someone majoring in gender studies.)


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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